Former Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn's tenure with the department may not be over.
The Civil Service Commission voted Wednesday that it has jurisdiction to hear the case of her discharge by a 3-1 vote. The commission does not have jurisdiction to hear whether her discharge was just, but rather if she has a right to a position commensurate with her civil service status.
Washburn was terminated from her position by City Administrator Corri Spiegel on July 27, three days after being placed on administrative leave.
The notice of discharge came after Washburn notified Spiegel that she would not be able to attend a pre-disciplinary meeting scheduled for what became the official date of her termination because of travel that was previously approved.
Assistant City Attorney Brian Heyer argued that Washburn was an at-will employee, as stipulated in her employment agreement, and did not have civil service rights.
Civil service is the system that provides the framework to hire and promote public employees and is determined through experience and passing exams.
Without those rights, Heyer said she was fired under Iowa Code 372.15, which he said drew parallels to a 1978 court case, LaPeters v. Cedar Rapids.
Washburn's attorney, Mike Carroll, argued that Washburn had acquired civil service rights through her 29 years at the Rockford (Illinois) Fire Department and that Iowa Code does not explicitly state that those rights are not transferable.
"She came out of a department with civil service protection," Carroll said. "She applied for a job that had to be certified under civil service rules in the city of Davenport. The city of Davenport hired her off a qualified civil service list."
While Heyer said that it was "clear and unambiguous" that Washburn had no rights in the Davenport Fire Department and did not acquire rights according to Iowa Code 400.13 and 400.14, Carroll said Washburn is not challenging her right to be chief, only to hold a job in the department at her civil service grade.
In his brief to Civil Service Commission, Carroll said that Washburn was not terminated per the conditions in Iowa Code 372.15, which requires written disclosure of the reasons for discharge.
The only documentation in Washburn's file is a memorandum from Spiegel which states: "During my tenure, due to actions on her part including but not limited to those of today and the past several days, she demonstrated that she is unsuitable or unfit for continued employment."
Ultimately though, the commission found in favor of Washburn, at least in the sense that it could hear her appeal to be reinstated within the department.
"It's clear after the vote today that the Civil Service Commission does retain the rights to hear the appeal and the question will be raised at that time whether Chief is entitled to a position," Commissioner DeShonda Davis-Locke said.
A hearing date has not been set.